Improving Nonprofit Websites with Content Audits

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My heart goes out to nonprofits. They do amazing work for their communities and change people’s worlds. However, while skilled in helping people, many nonprofit websites fail to develop effective websites.

For the past two years, I’ve been studying many nonprofit websites, and often many websites underperform for their users. All too often, many nonprofit websites:

  • Provide too much information that is difficult to find
  • Provide too little information
  • Don’t include enough visual images like photos and video content
  • Contain too much outdated information
  • Provide a poor user experience with difficult navigation
  • Attempt to do too much, and lacks a specific focus
  • Don’t engage users with call to actions

I believe nonprofit websites can perform so much better. The first step to improvement starts with conducting a content audit.

What is a Content Audit?

A content audit provides key insight into the health and condition of a website by looking at all content posted on a website and through social media. Content audits can also help improve search engine optimization, web accessibility, and user experience.

The audit also allows organizations to reflect on their goals and objectives and determine if their communication practices align with them.

How to Perform a Content Audit

Performing a content audit takes a few steps, although a comprehensive content audit could demand time.

  1. Identify your organization’s goals
  2. Create an inventory of all content
    1. Tools such as SEOSpider do an excellent job organizing content.
  3. Analyze data collected
  4. Reflect on data
  5. Perform necessary improvements

Content Audit in Action

I recently performed a content audit on a local nonprofit organization in New Bedford, Massachusetts, AHA! New Bedford.

About AHA! New Bedford

AHA! New Bedford is a non-profit organization located in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Its mission is to develop a monthly art, history, and architecture festival that increases traffic into the heart of New Bedford and increases revenue for AHA! Members. In a 2015 study by UMASS Dartmouth,  $342,000 was spent on downtown vendors during AHA! Nights. 

AHA! New Bedford has become an integral aspect of the economic transformation of New Bedford. Founded in 1999, AHA! New Bedford has developed hundreds of community events, including their flagship AHA! The night is a monthly festival on the second Thursday each month.

Emmanual Escobar plays the saxophone during an AHA! night in New Bedford, Massachusetts
Emmanual Escobar plays the saxophone during an AHA! Night in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Businesses can become members of the AHA! Organization by purchasing a membership at various levels. Membership will allow businesses to be promoted on their website and during AHA! Nights.

While the organization does a wonderful job supporting the arts in New Bedford, Massachusetts. AHA New Bedford’s website does not support the organization’s mission and leaves many users wanting more.

AHANewBedford.Org

The homepage of AHANewBedford.org includes too much text, and too little arts, history, and architecture.
The home page of AHANewBedford.org includes too much text and too little Arts, History, and Architecture.

The website contains an abundance of information, includes snazzy graphics, and demonstrates a passion for New Bedford, MA. The website has a professional logo and a modern color palette. 

However, I found AHA! New Bedford is missing essential information. For a nonprofit organization that celebrates Art, History, and Architecture, the site does not include much information, images, or video about any art, history, or architecture in New Bedford, Massachusetts. This feels like a missed opportunity.

The website appears to be an unhealthy mix of busy graphics, an overabundance of information, lacking visual mediums, broken links, and does not translate well to mobile devices.

The homepage of AHA! New Bedford offers many pathways for users to leave the site altogether.
The homepage of AHA! New Bedford offers many pathways for users to leave the site altogether.

One observation that I had made during this audit website AHA New Bedford likes to send viewers away from the site. 

For example, the front page’s banners send users to news articles on a radio station’s webpage. A second banner brings the viewer to a video posted on Facebook. Another banner link brings you to the newspaper’s website.

Retaining users should be a priority of AHA! New Bedford.

What is the site’s purpose?

The site needs some updating to streamline content. I found the website to be clunky to navigate. Much of the content on the website is hidden behind menus, forcing the user to dig through many menus to find content. 

  • I found myself questioning what the website’s overall strategy was.
  • Is it designed to increase membership to AHA?
  • Is it designed to provide information about upcoming events to the general public? 
  • Is the site merely acting as a directory for membered businesses in New Bedford, MA?
  • Is it designed to bolster the public image of AHA! New Bedford to stakeholders?

The first main button directs people to the “About Us” page for a website about an arts festival. I felt like this was a missed opportunity for AHA! New Bedford to immediately direct people to their upcoming event.

Content Audit

I used the content audit tool SEO Spider to analyze AHANewBedford.org in February 2021. I visited each page and attempted to navigate throughout the site.  I then developed a spreadsheet of all content available on the website.

The site contains:

126

Internal Pages

485

External URL Links

65

Images

The content audit revealed key insight into the structure and organization of the website and focused on gathering data from the following categories:

  • Search Engine Optimization
    • Page Titles
    • Metadata
    • Page Structure with Header Elements
    • Accessibility
  • Content
    • Images
    • Writing
  • Architecture

Search Engine Optimization

Most users access content by using search engines. However, if your website is not optimized for search engines, users might not find your content.

When searching for "New Bedford Art" on Google, AHA! New Bedford is not the top-ranked search.
When searching for “New Bedford Art” on Google, AHA! New Bedford is not the top-ranked search.

During the content audit of AHANewBedford.org, the data suggested the site is not optimized for search engines and does not follow the best search engine optimization methods.

Page Titles

Google’s search algorithms rely heavily on page titles. Page titles help rank content for Google searches, and a few guidelines should be followed.

  • Be specific about page details
  • Include searchable Keywords
  • Keep it short. Google indicates titles should be no more than 50-60 characters.
  • Unique Title Pages, avoid duplicate titles.

AHA! New Bedford Title Pages

Throughout the website, there are 126 different page titles. Most page titles define the page appropriately, while others are cryptic and do not explain the page. Others are relatively short, and some are incredibly long, often cutting off in Google Searches. 

The About AHA! page includes two H2 headers, and doesn’t contain a H1 header.

Title Data

  • 125 page titles followed a similar pattern
    • ex: Become an AHA! Partner – AHA! New Bedford
  • 7 Inconsistent titles including formatting and capitalization
    • ex: AHA! New Bedford – THE 2ND THURSDAY OF EVERY MONTH IN DOWNTOWN NEW BEDFORD
    • calico – AHA! New Bedford
    • CONTACT – AHA! New Bedford
    • mediumstudio – AHA! New Bedford
    • museums & attractions – AHA! New Bedford
    • SPONSORS & SUPPORTERS – AHA! New Bedford
    • TL6 the gallery – AHA! New Bedford
  • 20 pages with duplicate page titles

Good example of Titles

  • News – AHA! New Bedford
  • Become an AHA! Partner – AHA! New Bedford
  • Connect From Your Couch – AHA! New Bedford

Poor Example of Titles

  • AHA! Project Receives NEA Grant to Increase Community Outreach to Groups in New Bedford and Surrounding Towns – AHA! New Bedford
  • 5th Annual Bowl-for-Art Brings Together the Community and Funds for AHA! – AHA! New Bedford
  • The University Gallery UMass Dartmouth College of Visual & Performing Arts STAR STORE Campus – AHA! New Bedford

Character Count

  • 11 titles include more than 60 characters
  • 20 page titles included less than 30 characters
  • The website included a range of 23-128 characters.

Metadata Descriptions

Metadata descriptions are hidden web elements that inform search engines about the summary of a page’s content. When users search for a keyword in a search engine, the metadata displays under the title of the main page.

Well-written metadata includes keywords users would most likely search for and should be no more than 150-160 characters. Otherwise, descriptions will be cut off by search engines.

An example of metadata displayed under Google search results.
An example of metadata displayed under Google search results.

AHA! New Bedford Metadata

When analyzing the website, I was surprised to learn the website contained zero metadata. The website contained zero metadata descriptions and zero metadata keywords.

AHA! New Bedford misses the mark with this decision, limiting how people find and interact with their website which could be detrimental to the organization.

For example, I searched “New Bedford Art, ” “New Bedford History, and “New Bedford Architecture” on Google. I searched for ten pages and still didn’t find a link to AHA! New Bedford’s website. It’s remarkable as art, history, and architecture are the primary words that make up the organization’s name. 

Competitive Analysis

A screenshot of Providence's art and music festival's website demonstrates excellent usage of metadata writing.
Providence’s art and music festival’s website demonstrates excellent usage of metadata writing.

I ran an SEO Spider scan on a similar organization, Waterfire Providence. The organization, like AHA! New Bedford organizes biweekly events celebrating the arts, increasing traffic to downtown Providence, and partners with area businesses to increase revenue in the city.

The metadata was a stark difference. Waterfire.org contains:

  • 2,316 metadata descriptions across 4,560 pages.
  • The website also contained 256 duplicate descriptions.
  • 660 pages containing more than 155 characters, and 361 below 70 characters.
  • Waterfire.org also included 1,630 keywords.

Headers

Websites use headers to organize and structure content. Search engines use headers to scan content and develop search results for users.

Image courtesy: Schudio.com

Web headers start with creating header tags in the coding of web content and create a hierarchy or information across six headers. Headers should follow a standard convention, with the most important information tagged with the Header 1 (H1) tag and the least relevant information tagged Header 6 (H6)

Websites should also only have one H1 tag on each page.

AHA! New Bedford Headers

90% of the web pages contain an HTML H1 header. However, there are some conflicts with the header hierarchy. 

For example, the website lacks an H1 header on the home page. Instead, the first header uses an H3 format.

AHA New Bedford's website uses improper header
The home page of AHANew Bedford contains the improper header structure, using an H3 header instead of an H1 header.

On other pages, headers are used stylistically instead of organizing material. On the About Us page, an H2 title is used as a paragraph of text.  Using headers in this fashion is not advisable and is not the best writing practice. 

AHA New Bedford's About AHA! page contains two H2 headers. One header is the correct header, and the second header should be a paragraph of text.
AHA New Bedford’s About AHA! page contains two H2 headers. One header is the correct header, and the second header should be a paragraph of text.

Further down on the About Us Page, headers are not used to introduce the other topics. Instead, the website uses bold type in the paragraph HTML element followed by a block of text. Structuring web content in this manner is also not advisable, and headers can alleviate the congestion. It’s also advisable to limit and simplify giant blocks of text. 

Further down on the About Us Page, headers are not used to introduce the other topics. Instead, the website uses bold type in the paragraph HTML element followed by a block of text. Structuring web content in this manner is also not advisable, and headers can alleviate the congestion. It’s also advisable to limit and simplify giant blocks of text. 

AHA! New Bedford's website uses too much text, and not enough headers to break up text.
The About Page should use headers to break up and organize text.

Accessibility

Search engines favor websites that provide positive experiences for people with disabilities and websites that are responsive to the different types of devices users will use.

Websites that also include alt tags, invisible coding that describes an image for visually impaired users, increase favorability from search engines.

AHA! New Bedford Accessibility Audit

I ran a WAVE report on the AHA NewBedford.org and found many accessibility issues, including:

  • The website is loaded with empty headers, missing and broken links,
  • Images have lengthy alt text.
  • Contrast issues regarding the color palette.
  • 84% of images did not contain alt tags.
A WAVE accessibility tool analyzes the content on AHA New Bedford's website.
The WAVE Accessibility tool highlights issues for users with disabilities.

On other pages, the WAVE report highlighted many images throughout the website that did not include alt text. 

Alt Tag Usage

10% of the website did include some alt text in their images. The alt text was included mostly for the web page’s logos and had the text “AHA! New Bedford” and lacked any real description.

There was one more additional image that had alt text, and the text read: “digital-pride-statement.’

There were six instances where alt text was auto-populated by the captions of an Instagram feed. Instagram captions are not suitable alt tag text, and more straightforward alt text can improve these images.

AHA! New Bedford Content Audit

The website is designed with 126 pages and includes :

  • 64 jpeg and png images
  • 23 Javascript/application elements 
  • 3 pdf  and word files
  • 35 Text/CSS elements
  • 175 Text/HTML elements
  • 5 Drop Down Menu Navigation links

The website has some imagery throughout the pages. The front page has a rotating banner with excellent graphic designed elements. A few images are just too busy and could benefit from simplifying. 

Aside from the front page and the About Us page, the website could benefit from more images. The rest of the site is mostly text and link-based.

AHA! New Bedford contains too much text, and provides too many options for users.
AHA! NewBedford contains too much text at times and could use further inclusion of images and video.

On the Sponsor’s page and Partner page, there are no images at all. The actual sponsors and partner links contain no images as well. The lack of art, history, and architecture is a missed opportunity for AHA to engage the viewers with more embedded media.

Writing

There is a lot of writing on this website. The writing is often wordy and should be simplified. Most pages appear overloaded with text, and often the voicing is not unified.

Each membered business has a different message and quality on the partner’s page. It seems like the companies wrote their statements, and it comes off as AHA! has favorite companies. Some statements are quite lengthy, and others include a simple message. There is inequity and uniformity with this page. 

Target Audience

The writing is suitable for most audiences but could be simplified to better match New Bedford’s general population. New Bedford has a large population of poorly educated immigrants. Some of the writing on AHA! New Bedford’s page might be too advanced for a general audience. 

I would argue art, history, and architecture should be made available to everyone. I would also argue that much of the writing should be more succinct.

Outdated Content

The website includes quite a bit of obsolete information and serves little purpose to the average user.

For example, there are links available for prior events from months ago. There is also information identifying sponsors and partners that dates back to 2008.

AHA! new Bedford's website contains too much information that is outdated and irrelevant for users.
AHA! New Bedford includes information from 2011 on their website.

I don’t understand the business decision to include this data. A company could essentially pay for a membership, let it lapse, and still benefit from being listed on the website.

Responsive Design

The website, for the most part, performs well for mobile devices. There are considerable differences between the desktop and mobile versions, and the website is not optimized for mobile viewing. 

The front page banner cuts off on the mobile version. This is a graphic design issue and makes the website’s front page not perform as expected.

The navigation between pages is also cumbersome. Pressing the text does not open the menu, and users might find it difficult to press the small arrows to activate the menu.

The website does not have a search option, and the only navigation follows the top menu bar. Due to the large number of partners, sponsors, and information, it might be helpful to develop a search bar for the website.

Next Steps

Now that a content audit provided data, AHA! New Bedford can use this information to shore up the performance of the website and better engage users who might end up the website.

Still lost?

Let me help you better understand your website’s strengths and weaknesses with a content audit. I’ll provide you with a comprehensive analysis of your website and create an improvement plan to make your website achieve its goal.

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About the Author
About the Author

Drew Furtado is an Emmy Award winning filmmaker, and leader of a nationally recognized high school media arts communication department .

He develops guides and strategies for nonprofit and educational organizations to improve and grow their social media presence, website development, and communication practices that best engages audiences.

New Bedford, Massachusetts

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